Assistant/associate professor watch: The '94 crime bill is very hot!


So is the love of spin:
All of a sudden, the 1994 crime bill is very, very hot.

So is the love of silly politicized spin. We're not sure when we've seen a matter of substance get spun in so many ways by so many spindrift people.

In our view, the most ludicrous aspect of this pseudo-discussion involves the heavy focus on something Hillary Clinton said on one occasion, in 1996, twenty years ago. In today's featured editorial, the New York Times helps feed this remarkable frenzy through a traditional play:
NEWS YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (4/13/16): Mrs. Clinton has said she regrets her past statements promoting the crime bill as a way to bring “to heel” the era’s young “super-predators.”
There it is—the power of pluralization! One past statement from 1996 might seem a bit slight as a spur to furious discussion. For that reason, let's stick an "s" on the end! Let's turn one statement into "past statements," with a good solid "s" on the end!

Will Andrew Rosenthal ever leave? The editorial includes other sad elements, including the statement that the crime bill "wasn’t solely responsible for the phenomenon known as mass incarceration."

It wasn't solely responsible? For a trend which had been underway for decades, and had basically peaked, by the time the crime bill passed?

(Will Andrew Rosenthal ever leave? People, we're just asking!)

Whatever your ultimate judgment about that crime bill may be, the spinning of that legislation has become a thing to behold. In our view, an opinion column in today's Times provides the latest case in point.

The column is written by three assistant/associate professors from the finest schools. Their headline asks a basic question:

"Did Blacks Really Endorse the 1994 Crime Bill?"

Presumably, it all depends on what the meaning of "really endorse the crime bill" is! At any rate, as the assistant professors come out of the gate, their answer seems to be no.

Headline included:
HINTON, KOHLER-HAUSMANN AND WEAVER (4/13/16): Did Blacks Really Endorse the 1994 Crime Bill?

As political candidates and pundits grapple with the legacy of the 1994 crime bill and the era of mass incarceration that has seen millions of African-Americans locked in the nation’s prisons, one defense keeps popping up: that black citizens asked for it.

When confronted about her husband’s pivotal support for the bill, Hillary Clinton argued, even as she admitted the legislation’s shortcomings, that the bill was a response to “great demand, not just from America writ large, but from the black community, to get tougher on crime.”

Yet the historical record reveals a different story. Instead of being the unintended consequence of the democratic process at work, punitive crime policy is a result of a process of selectively hearing black voices on the question of crime.
It's normally said that columnists write their own headlines in the New York Times. We don't know if that privilege is granted to guest columnists, like the assistant professors.

At any rate, the assistant professors come firing out of the gate.

In their first paragraph, they imply a basic view of the bill. (It needs to be defended, not affirmed.) And they quickly seem to answer the question posed in that headline. They seem to say that "black citizens" really didn't "ask for" that crime bill.

"The historical record reveals a different story," the three assistants say. They keep this up until the middle of paragraph 13 (of a 15-paragraph piece), when they finally drop a rather basic fact:
HINTON, KOHLER-HAUSMANN AND WEAVER: ...Ultimately, 26 of the 38 voting members [of the Congressional Black Caucus] supported the legislation. But those who broke ranks did so loudly: As Representative Robert C. Scott of Virginia explained, “You wouldn’t ask an opponent of abortion to look at a bill with the greatest expansion of abortion in the history of the United States, and argue that he ought to vote for it because it’s got some highway funding in it.”
Among members of the CBC, the vote was 26-12 in favor of the horrible bill, the one black citizens didn't ask for. But don't pay any attention to that! One black congressman who broke ranks is said to have done so loudly!

(Partial disclosure: Bobby Scott, whose work we admire, was a college classmate.)

This column strikes us as terrible work—as propaganda almost all the way down. The assistants seem to have a point of view, and they seem to want to promote it.

To do so, they seem to be willing to push basic facts all the way to the end of their tale. Equally silly is the way the three assistants explain away the votes by those black members of Congress.

Can you spot the missing point of logic?
HINTON, KOHLER-HAUSMANN AND WEAVER: In final negotiations, Democratic leadership yielded to Republicans demanding that prevention (or “welfare for criminals” as one called it) be sliced in exchange for their votes. Senator Robert Dole insisted that the focus be “on cutting pork, not on cutting prisons or police.” The compromise eliminated $2.5 billion in social spending and only $800 million in prison expenditures.

This presented black lawmakers with a dilemma: Defeating the bill might pave the way for something even more draconian down the line, and lose critical prevention funding still in the bill. Ultimately, 26 of the 38 voting members supported the legislation.
According to the assistant professors, Republican opposition presented the black lawmakers with a dilemma. That's why they voted for the bill.

It doesn't seem to enter the assistants' heads that white lawmakers were presented with the same, extremely familiar type of political dilemma—a type of dilemma which affects a wide range of congressional votes. Also presented with a dilemma were the white and black folk in the White House, the ones our tribe's extremely small minds are now transforming into demons.

In the end, our liberal tribe is very unimpressive. So is the New York Times, who decided to publish this underfed cant.

Parents pay tuition for this: According to the New York Times:

"Elizabeth Hinton is an assistant professor in the departments of history and African and African-American studies at Harvard. Julilly Kohler-Hausmann is an assistant professor of history at Cornell. Vesla M. Weaver is an associate professor in the departments of African-American studies and political science at Yale."

Citizens, we're just saying.


  1. I am glad Bob disclosed his school ties to Rep. Scott in this post and Jay Mathews earlier this week. In fact, his increasing need to print personal recollections are reminding me of some of the most endearing literary qualities of that great experienced scribe David in Cal.

    1. Somerby disclosed that he knew a guy mentioned in the article he's writing about, and did it quite minimally.

      To you, it's a salient point and reminds you of the extended biographical musings and justifications of a frequent commenter here.

      What exactly is wring with you?

    2. Your spelling error?

    3. Technically Sane Folk Somerby didn't disclose he knew either guy mentioned by @ 3:02. For all we know if you asked either Scott or Mathews about Somerby they might react like Chris Chrisite did when asked about his high scholl realtionship with David Wildstein.

  2. People paid taxes for this: According to "How He Got There" Bob Somerby spent the bulk of twelve years teaching 10 year olds in Baltimore public schools.

    Citizens, it was over three decades ago so don't go asking for refunds. Parents, kiddos: ditto on any demands for reparations.

  3. Bob's yeoman effort as the volunteer captain of the Blogosphere Watch on untenured black female faculty makes me feel as intellectually safe at night as those townhouse neighbors of George Zimmerman must have felt knowing he was always around with a gun in his pocket on the way to buy lunchmeat.

  4. "Will Andrew Rosenthal ever leave? The editorial includes other sad elements, including the statement that the crime bill "wasn’t solely responsible for the phenomenon known as mass incarceration."

    It wasn't solely responsible? For a trend which had been underway for decades, and had basically peaked, by the time the crime bill passed?"

    Bob Somerby

    Given that the highlighted closing point is flatly false, we might wonder which departure needs to happens first, A. Rosenthal at the Times, or the remainining gullible readers at the Daily Howler.

    1. You're wrong. The incarceration rate soared from the 70s until about 1994, the rate then began to decline.
      Just google it.

    2. PS..I hope you know the difference between a "rate" and an associated quantity.

    3. Unknown, instread of telling me to Google it you could have followed the link to the chart in my comment which shows the violent crime rate was on the way down before 1994 but the incarceration rate continued to climb at about the same rate after the bill as before, going from 389/100,000 to about 480/100,000 at the end of Clinton's term.
      That is accourding to data from the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, Department of Justice according to the NYT.

      But let's not rely on the Times chart fro DOJ sources. Let's rely on somebody else:
      “I signed a bill that made the problem worse,” Bill Clinton told the NAACP last July. “And I want to admit it.”

    4. Clinton's comment is most sensibly interpreted not as evidence of any fact about the crime bill, but as attempt at appeasement, delivered to an audience he had every reason to wish to appease mere weeks after his spouse's announcement for as a candidate for the presidency.

      Clinton didn't "want to admit" anything. He wanted to blunt the blowback from perceptions about the 1984 bill. Politically wise.

      But there is really not much evidence at all that the bill -- which indeed appeared almost at the peak of the very long incarceration wave -- made things worse.

      And of course things soon became much "better" incarceration-wise -- without regard to impact from the 1984 bill at all.

    5. Nona Nym: Official Mind Reader of the 42nd POTUS.

      Nona Nym: Better than mm at falsely spinning facts about the "peak" of the incarceration "wave."

    6. Clinton also strongly defends the bill, so Nona is likely correct.

  5. As Mr. Somerby, and a select few others have detailed in the past, the NY Times has a pathetic record in reporting upon the Clintons. For this particular op-ed, however, they may simply using "statements" in lieu of "sentences"; it is sloppy usage, but not evidence of malice per se.

  6. Your article seems to support Mr. Somerby and not your statement that the highlighted passage is "flatly false".

    What's wrong with you?

    What the historical record does show is that many federal and state changes in criminal justice policy led to a fourfold rise in the incarceration rate from the early 1970s until it declined modestly in the last few years.

    The rise in incarceration was driven by state laws like the 1973 Rockefeller drug laws in New York. And it was stoked by a major 1986 federal drug act, which expanded mandatory sentences and set the now-notorious 100-to-one ratio in the quantities of powdered versus crack cocaine that could trigger severe penalties.

    Still, the incentives offered to the states in the 1994 law — nearly $10 billion for prison construction on the condition that states adopt “truth in sentencing” policies — may have added somewhat to the prison populations of the 28 states that took advantage of the provision. There, the results may still be playing out decades later as prisons are forced to establish geriatric units for inmates they cannot parole.

    ****** Mother Jones
    The Times presents this claim without evidence. It is, apparently, now in the same category as the sun rising in the east and cigarettes causing lung cancer. It just is.

    Except that it isn't. We don't have formal historical records of incarceration rates by race, but there are plenty of good estimates. The National Academies of Science produced one as part of its recent report, The Growth of Incarceration in the United States, and you can see it on the right (it includes both state and federal prisoners). The incarceration rate for blacks is indeed a national scandal, but not one that was affected one way or the other by the 1994 crime bill. There were plenty of problems with that bill, and it's perfectly all right to loathe it. But it had almost no effect on mass incarceration in general, nor did it affect black incarceration rates more than slightly.


    1. You left out LBJ's 1968 Omnibus Crime Bill.

    2. What's wrong with me?

      The article "seems to support..." mm? SEEMS? You can't even defend a Bob lie without using a Bob weasel word????

      mm I notice you left out the chart which is in the article in addition to the LBJ bill.

      The chart, based on DOJ numbers shows just how much the incarceration rate increased after the bill passed until the end of Clinton's term. It was not until thenh that the rate leveled off. It was a substantial amount of increase in 6 years.

      I related the numbers in a comment earlier @ 11:54 pm.

      The statement by Bob was that the incarceration rate "had basically peaked by the time the crime bill passed." Basically that is false. Or as Bob might say, all wet. Even the Big Dog admitted that.

    3. Maybe the incarceration rate increased during that era because there were more violent felons on the streets.

      Take the violent criminals off the streets, the crime rate subsequently goes down.

    4. This is such bullshit. Just a transparent cynical attempt to put the responsibility on Secretary Clinton for something she had nothing to do with.

      This was a bill that Representative Bernie Sanders voted for and proudly campaigned on when he made his first run for the Senate in 2007. He was "tough of crime" you know, before he became a patron saint of the progressive Bernie Bros.

      Read the damn article.

      But in fact, the data shows, the startling rise in imprisonment was already well underway by 1994, with roots in a federal government war on drugs that was embraced by Democratic and Republican leaders alike.

      Do you even understand what it means to say the trend which had been underway for decades, and had basically peaked, by the time the crime bill passed??

      Between 1980 and 1994 the rate of incarceration increased from around 100 to 389 per hundred thousand. A change of almost 300 over 14 years.

      From 1994 to the peak the rate increased from 389 to 480 per hundred thousand.

      A change of less than 100 over 16 years.

      So it is proper and accurate to say the rate of increase was flattening.

      We all know what this is about. Hillary Clinton wasn't even in office when the bill was pass with strong Democratic support including Saint Bernie the Pure.

      As TDH says,

      "In our view, the most ludicrous aspect of this pseudo-discussion involves the heavy focus on something Hillary Clinton said on one occasion, in 1996, twenty years ago."

      Yes, truly ludicrous, but par for the course for the New York Times.

    5. One further point, I don't know why you keep talking about LBJ in 1968? It wasn't even mentioned in the article you linked to nor was it mentioned by TDH.

      I also forgot to mention Ronald Reagan's Omnibus Crime Bill in 1984 but I notice you ignored it also.

      Let's look at the graph once more. Where does the slope of the incarceration rate start to get really steep. Gosh somewhere in the mid 1980's. Huh.

      I used the word "seems" because I was trying to be polite. Now that I know you're a dick I won't bother anymore.

    6. mm you SEEM to be lying as well as name calling. No, wait. You ARE lying.

      The incarceration rate peaked at about 480 in 2000, during the Clinton administration. So the increase you cite of almost 100/100,000 in the incarceration rate occured in 6 years, not the 16 years your lying, smary, Bob-kissing ass is now peddling. (I could have called you a dick, but passed on the opportunity.)

      Nobody is stating the incarceration rate increase did not start before the Clinton crime bill. What you reacted to was criticism of Bob's flat out erroneous statement that the upward trend for mass incarceration "had basically peaked, by the time the crime bill passed?" Well, if you overlook the fact that the subsequent increase after the bill passed was higher than the current total incarceration rate of Germany or Japan, or....yes Finland!, I guess you could say Bob was "technically accurate" to say "basically peaked." If you are as hypocritical as Bob, that is.

      Oh, and thanks for throwing Bernie into the debate. He had nothing to do with it, I voted for Clinton in my state primary, and you once again prove Bob can be accurate, as in when he "guessed" some of Hillary's supporters were her biggest problem.


    7. You are preposterous.

      The slope of the line graphically showing the rate of incarceration flattens dramatically towards the late nineties, but the rate continues rising.

      It is difficult to be precise working from a graph looking at it online in a newspaper article but I am confident enough to state that the rate of incarceration did NOT peak in the year 2000. That assertion of yours is just flat false. I took the number 480 from the graph because that data point is actually labeled and it appears to be for the year around 2010 or maybe a little later. Taking a second look, the actual peak rate does appear to have occurred a few years prior to 2010 but it is not labeled and the difference doesn't seem that significant.

      Not sure what your point is. There is no question, the greatest slope shown in that graph occurs prior to 1994 and becomes decreasing subsequently.

      You just seem to be a waste of time with an irrational insane reflexive hatred for TDH.

      The main point of his post which you studiously avoid,

      "the most ludicrous aspect of this pseudo-discussion involves the heavy focus on something Hillary Clinton said on one occasion, in 1996, twenty years ago."

      And how one single statement she made 20 years ago, is described in the plural as "statements".

    8. Thanks for telling me what I SEEM to be.

      Bless your heart, you, like the blogger whose ascot you like to succor with your literary lips, cannot admit simple factual error. That doesn't put you in a cave, hut, or wigwam with the rest of us dummies in Tribe Liberal. It puts you squarely in the camp of the FOX watching, Limbaugh listening, Trump touting truth avoiders.

      You write:

      "The slope of the line graphically showing the rate of incarceration flattens dramatically towards the late nineties, but the rate continues rising."

      The slope "flattens" but the rate "continues rising" you say? Well bless my soul if that don't mean that the danged slope had yet to hit its peak. But your buddy Bob had the peak reached "by the time the crime bill passed."

      You go on to note that I don't address what Bob says he finds to be "the most ludicrous aspect of this" discussion. That is one of Bob's favorite hypocritical practices, faulting someone for avoiding a topic they chose not to address. You see, Bob himself avoided the main point of the Times editorial he attacks, which is this:

      "It’s puzzling that Mrs. Clinton hasn’t addressed in detail the trade-offs and the consequences, good and bad, of that legislation....Mr. Sanders’s durability in this race is due in part to young, idealistic Democrats who weren’t born before or don’t remember the partisan battles of the 1990s....The way to reach those voters is to acknowledge their objections and better explain what it takes to move an agenda through a hostile Congress."

      Is it puzzling that Somerby didn't mention that? No. It his standard operating procedure; attacking others or suggesting flaws for practices he himself engages in. That is probably why he provided no link to the editorial. The better to keep his rubes from being able to read what it said for themselves.

    9. The increase in incarceration after the 1994 bill that ends in 1998 is a continuation of the trend that started in the '70's and clearly not related to the 1994 bill; additionally, that bill would have little effect on any statistic by 1998, just four years after being passed.

      Bob is right to point out how badly the experts got the facts wrong in their editorial.

    10. "Well bless my soul if that don't mean that the danged slope had yet to hit its peak."

      Are you really this dense? Are lyou trying to win the internet nit-picking contest?

      "the danged slope had yet to hit its peak."

      Wrong. The "slope" had peaked, however, the rate of incarceration continued to rise at a ever slower velocity and in fact started decreasing around 2010.

      The rate of change had peaked.

    11. Anon. @ 3:31 writes "The increase in incarceration after the 1994 bill that ends in 1998 is a continuation of the trend....Bob is right to point out how badly the experts got the facts wrong in their editorial"

      Sadly, the increase did not end in 1998. The chart shows it peaking in 2000. And there are statistics from the same sources cited in that chart that show the rate of incarceration hasn't peaked yet. the 1994 Bill is still in effect. The incarceration rate is still much higher, but the violent crime rate has fallen in half. But that's just part of the problem with your comment.

      Somerby's fuzzy language has its peak around 1994. Even if you were right about 1998 he is still in error. The criticism I leveled at Somerby was for his getting his facts wrong, not for corrections he was pointing out by others at the same time he was making his own.

    12. Don't be sad, but you are very wrong. The increase in incarceration rate trend actually did end in 1998 and was flat until about 2000 after which it bounced up and down. The 1994 bill clearly did not contribute to the trend that started decades before the bill, and experts say if it contributed to any increase after 1994 at all it is modest at best.

      Somerby was not fuzzy about incarceration rates, he does not mention anything about its peak in his post.

  7. Imagine a black person involved in a crime. Let me know when you have an image in your mind.

    OK, did you visualize a perp or a victim? IMHO too many people visualize the criminal.

    A recent Gallup Poll shows that 68% of non-whites are concerned about crime, as are 70% of those with less education and 66% of low earners. There's much less concern about crime among whites, highly educated and the wealthy.

    The reason for the difference is obvious: non-whites, poor, and uneducated people are more often the victims of crime.

    Clinton's crime bill was a boon to blacks, because it protected victims. That bill is a boon to blacks today, because it reduces their exposure to criminals.

    I think the liberal POV is based on the unstated assumption that we can reduce punishment and reduce incareration with no effect on the crime rate. IMHO that assumption makes no sense.

    1. Imagine David in Cal commenting on topic instead of spouting his VDARE/Breitbart-inspired drivel.

      You're right, impossible.

  8. If some one can dig up Wash Post report, early 1990 or 91, I think. Story about a murder trial, young black man killing another young black man. Not guilty, the jury declared. Even after lengthy criminal record of suspect was presented to the Jury.

    The jury forewoman, black Wash DC resident, quoted in the Wash Post story, she simply did not want to see another young black man incarcerated.

    Today we are back at the point. Only thing different, we have lost all courage and we cannot bring ourselves discuss this issue: Crime and Punishment.

  9. Bob is right on target with this piece. I read it earlier and had the same reaction. Here we have authors who carefully select from opinions that were rare while attacking those who point out the common reactions as "being selective".

    I was with the DOJ in 1994 and heard all the arguments. And one of the top arguments from Black community leaders at that time was that police did not want to go into Black neighborhoods! And they said "Help us please". That was the reason for seeking 100,000 new law enforcement officers. And guess what...The numbers of new hires was not sufficient so I was among many added in as one (of the 100,000) even though I had been on board since 1992.

    1. You confuse quantity with quality in law enforcement, and so did the 1994 legislation.

    2. I confused nothing. But you confuse your contribution of nothing with an actual substantive comment. So be it.

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  11. This will do more than incarceration to reduce crime: Hillary Clinton wants to eliminate lead within five years.

    But be patient. You won't see the lower crime rate till twenty years later.

    1. I assume your presentation is sarcasm. The "lead-causes-crime" canard is the mantra of enablers.

    2. I don't consider myself an "enabler", violent people lacking impulse control should be separated from greater society.

      Consider the possibility that lead can cause brain damage, that potentially leads to dysfunctional criminal prone behavior. It doesn't excuse it.

      No water supply across the nation should contain lead. It's fixable.

  12. To confuse Hillary's current campaign rhetoric with anything she actually intends to do is to ignore history. Her rhetoric has oscillated throughout her career. She has a habit of taking whatever neoliberal action she wishes, then apologizing years later. One cycle she is a shotgun totin' Annie Oakley, the next she is deeply concerned about victims of mass shootings. She is a serial liar and flip flopper, which is easily documented from Bosnian snipers to pretending she is "sorry" for her indefensible vote for invading Iraq. Hiring Jon Podesta and David Brock seals the deal. She is amoral. To pretend that she is a victim of the corporate media is laughable or dumb, take your pick. She pumped plenty of lead in the Middle East during her tenure as SOS, btw, e.g. Libya. This discussion of her victimization by the media is absurd. Was she a victim 20 years ago? Yes. Now she is a perp, a Super Truth Predator, so to speak. At least her extortionist Hillary Victory Fund is breaking down barriers, so there is that.